Thirty-four-year-old Adria Lopour is living a dream.

And she has a prominent role in it.

So does her employer, Hewlett-Packard Co.

Rounding out the cast is the university where she's earning a master's of business administration focusing on international business.

Lopour has been able to keep her full-time job, attend college and maintain a busy life that includes two daughters and various activities, because her employer and her school have made it less of a hassle for her to achieve her dream.

Postsecondary schools have learned that catering to working adults attracts a growing market segment – nontraditional students, defined as ages 25 to 64, who want a degree for reasons that include earning more money, advancing professionally, experiencing personal growth or finishing a path they started years ago.

Students 25 years of age and older constitute nearly half of the new and returning student population, according to The Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education.

Rick Barstad, who recently completed a bachelor's degree in business administration, says he was glad to be able to earn an undergraduate degree in two years.

“Every instructor understands your schedule and is accommodating,” says Barstad, a 34-year-old mechanic who plans to enter the business world in the area of logistics.

“You can't get anywhere without a degree these days.”

© 2006, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.).

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.